Showing posts from January, 2006


On days when I have had cranky flakes for breakfast, faithful readers can find me here grumbling about the bleak state of drawing today.

In the words of Roberta Smith, "drawings are a direct extension of an artist's signature and very nervous system." The humble act of making a line with sensitivity and grace is one of the defining acts of humanity; it's the first thing our ancestors did when they evolved from Neanderthals to modern Cromagnons. So what are we to conclude from the state of drawing today? Artists such as Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware seem to be the current darlings of the illustration community, but largely because of the content of their message. Let's face it-- their drawing is just plain lame.

In fact, a great many of the artists who helped shape the course of illustration over the past several decades-- Seymour Chwast, Edward Sorel, Garry Trudeau and others-- seem to lack fundamental drawing skills. To their credit, they don't try to conceal …


The latest issue of illustration magazine is now out. The entire issue is devoted to the life and art of Bernie Fuchs, and it was written by yours truly. This is the first real biography of Fuchs, and the first historical treatment of his artwork spanning his entire career. He has truly led a remarkable life. To give you a taste, here is a quote from the introduction:Starting out in a small coal mining town in the depths of the Great Depression, Fuchs had no art training as a boy and no ambition to become an artist. He graduated from high school without ever painting a picture or even knowing what an illustrator did. After high school, he permanently injured his right hand, losing three fingers in an industrial accident that threatened his ability even to hold a pencil. The following year, he tried to find work on the assembly line at a puppet factory but was fired for incompetence at painting cartoon puppet heads.
Ten years later, Fuchs was one of the top illustrators in America. By t…


The great French impressionist Monet was famous for painting the same subject (such as hay stacks) in different light at different times of the day. By capturing his subject at morning, noon and night, he demonstrated how light and atmosphere transform an object.

 In 1952, Norman Rockwell did the exact same thing with his cover painting for the Saturday Evening Post, "A Day In The Life Of A Girl."

In a single painting, Rockwell divides the day into 22 separate vignettes, from dawn until nightfall. Each vignette is a brilliant study of the light at that particular time of the day. In the morning sun, in the reflected light of a swimming pool, in the neon light outside a theatre, in the warm glow of a bedside lamp or illuminated by moonlight, Rockwell's girl undergoes color changes that, while not as flashy and lurid as Monet's haystacks, are just as sensitive to the nuances of light at any given time of the day.

A less observant artist might use the same skin tones and …


In the 1950s and '60s, fine artists Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Franz Kline dazzled art critics and museums around the world with their brilliant avant garde paintings.

At the same time, another painter-- Bernie Fuchs-- dealt with the exact same aesthetic problems in a different forum. Like Motherwell, Rauschenberg and Kline, Fuchs rejected the realistic painting of his predecessors (such as Norman Rockwell) and focused on broader qualities of abstract design and composition.

If we compare Fuchs' art with the work of the other three painters, applying the same standards, it is difficult to tell which painter is superior. Fuchs' compositions were equally bold and lovely. The colors and shapes were comparable. In fact, the only consistent difference between Fuchs and the three "fine" artists was the purpose for which the art was created. Motherwell, Rauschenberg and Kline created art for art's sake. Fuchs' art had a commercial function. He crea…